The Kingdom Strikes Back

Art July 07, 2015 01:00


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Thailand plays a role as Cinemax's military-action series sets the stage for it's final season

The Cinemax military-action drama “Strike Back” returns for its final season next month, and while fans in Thailand will no doubt be sorry to see it go, they can take consolation from the fact that much of the story takes place here.
A press group from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong joined local reporters in Bangkok last winter to spend a day on the set of the high-octane production. They started their day very early in the morning at the Airport Link Makkasan before moving to Soi Cowboy. They watched the filming and mingled with the leading actors Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester, Anglo-Singaporean actress Michelle Lukes and Thailand’s very own Vithaya Pansringarm in a bar that had been totally taken over by the crew. 
“It’s my last day on this series,” Winchester lamented, adding that it was with a heavy heart that he had risen that morning in the knowledge he was saying goodbye to a project in which he’s been involved since the beginning,
Largely unknown before being cast in series two of “Strike Back”, the show catapulted both Stapleton and Winchester to fame, with Stapleton later landing the lead role in the feature “300: The Rise of an Empire”. 
The story starts in Bangkok when the daughter of the British ambassador is kidnapped while on a beach vacation in Thailand’s South. With her father tied up in peace talks with a high-ranking North Korean military officer, the British counter-terrorism agency Section 20 sends in Damien Scott (Stapleton) and Michael Stonebridge (Winchester) to rescue her. Supporting them on the ground is Kim Martinez (Milauna Jackson) with Philip Locke (Robson Green) and Julia Richmond (Lukes) running remote ops. In addition to Vithaya, other Thai actors include Sonia “Pim” Couling, Charina “Kaew Zaza” Sirisinha, Sahajak Boontanakit and Nawapol “Guy” Lumpoon.
Series producer Selwyn Roberts chose Thailand as one the key locations for this final season because, he says, viewers can identify with beautiful landscape and its people, and not least because of the skilled crews available.
 “The costs are very competitive and we get a very good deal here,” says Roberts.
 The series originally started shooting during the Bangkok Shutdown in early 2014 though Roberts insists it didn’t obstruct their schedule.
 “The only problem we had was being unable to sleep,” he recalls. “We were staying at the Conrad Hotel and the place was completely blocked.” 
The hotel is located not far from one of the main protest sites. “With political rallies day and night until four o’clock in the morning, it was very noisy.”
He adds that it was actually easier to work after the coup, as the military authorities appeared more inclined to allow them to film where and what they wanted.
Production came to abrupt halt in the middle of the year when Stapleton had a serious accident during his free time. The production team was barred for discussing the incident during the set visit though Stapleton himself was happy enough to talk about it.
His injuries have never been disclosed but reports indicate that he fell from a tuk-tuk on a night out and suffered a head injury. The production continued shooting around his scenes for a few days then took a six-month break to allow Stapleton to make a complete recovery.
The first four episodes take place in Thailand and the Section 20 team chasing villains from Bangkok to the jungle and Krabi before moving to infiltrate North Korea and follow a stealth counter-terrorism unit as it spans the globe to stop potential threats.
The story this time involves Japan’s yakuza, a North Korean spy and a terrorist plot.
“We have been filming for four years and it’s so much part of our lives. I don’t know how to feel actually! I’ll probably process it on the flight home and when I get back to Montana,” says the British-American Winchester, whose Royal Marine and former Special Boat Service commando seems overly serious beside Australian Stapleton’s former US Army Delta Force operative working.
“It’s been like a roller coaster ride for four years and an amazing opportunity. So professionally, personally and spiritually it’s an epic journey. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to do something as crazy as this again. It’s a unique show. Something I imagine like making a movie in the ’60s or ’70s,” says Winchester.
Stapleton and Winchester have built a solid chemistry since they first started working together in 2010. During a scene with Will Yun Lee, the duo had to fight and argue all the time, and it was so convincing that the Korean-American actor asked them how they did it.
“He asked how long we rehearsed before shooting and I told him it was spontaneous. He was amazed,” Winchester laughs.
Both Stapleton and Stonebridge undergo personal crises in this final season. For his part, Stapleton has to grapple with his son turning up while he is in the middle of his mission, while Stonebridge continues to struggle with whether or not to continue his career. 
Winchester believes that “Strike Back” has been successful because it has brought the ’80s action genre back to the screen. “The guys are tough, doing the kind of things associated with masculinity at a time when men are being encouraged to get in touch with their softer sides,” he says.
“It’s important that television starts doing that action genre again. Audiences are smarter than they have ever been and they can tell the difference between CGI and when the stunts are being doing by stunt professionals or the actors. Quite by accident ‘Strike Back’ gave them the real thing and they love it. 
The final season features 10 episodes and the producer promises it will go out with a bang. 
“It will be a great ending, a very American ending. When you see it, you’ll know,” he says.
  “Strike Back: The Legacy” premieres at 9pm on August 1 on Cinemax (TrueVisions 227).
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